Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jim Irsay says he would welcome Peyton Manning back … at the right price

Through the ongoing Peyton Manning medical and financial drama, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay has proven that if larceny abhors a vacuum, as the famed writer Wells Twombly once noted, silence hates that vacuum even more. Especially in Irsay's case. After employing a burn-the-ground mentality to his coaching staff and front office, Irsay went to Twitter and the media to establish himself as the face and voice of the franchise.
After Manning expressed discomfort about all the changes, Irsay called the quarterback a "politician," then tried to reverse course when that blew up in his face. He's acted as an informal medical expert on his quarterback to the media, and he's kept up a constant stream of dialogue on the subject.
Asked once again about Manning's future on Tuesday by Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star, Irsay revealed a bit more of his hand going forward.
"We can make it work if he wants to be here,'' Irsay said. "We'd be excited to have him back and finish his career with us.
"I want him to be able to make the choice. We would love to have him back here if he can get healthy and we can look at doing a contract that reflects the uncertainty of the . . . healing process with the regeneration of the nerve.''
Bang, and there it is -- the first public acknowledgement from the Colts that if Manning wants to stay with the team he's helped define over the last decade, he can most likely throw that $28 million roster bonus he's due out the window. Makes sense, really -- Irsay paid Manning a $26 million bonus in 2011 as part of Manning's new five-year, $90 million contract, and Manning didn't play a single down after a series of well-known neck and nerve injuries scuttled his season.
"There's no question it can be worked out if he wants to be here,'' said Irsay, who has concerns over Manning's long-term health. "It can work if he wants to come back and can get back to being the old Peyton.''

Irsay and Manning are set to meet next week to discuss Manning's future, and it's easy to see that Irsay's latest missive is a pre-emptive strike that puts the ball in Manning's court. Expected to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, Irsay finds himself in an impossible situation -- no matter which way he turns with his final decision, he's going to step in some fairly deep doo-doo.
[Dan Wetzel: Feud between Peyton Manning and Colts owner gets uglier]
He's either going to decide that Manning is done, and release the best quarterback in franchise history (our apologies, Johnny U.) in a P.R. nightmare that will take a while to overcome, especially since the roster-barren Colts will be rebuilding for years. Or, he can keep Manning at the agreed price, draft Luck, and set the Colts on the path to a potential salary cap disaster that Gordon Gekko couldn't pull them out of.
Thus, floating the idea that Manning would be welcome back at a reduced rate is a fairly brilliant bit of gamesmanship. Under those conditions, Manning would be perceived as a team player or not, for a team that will need all the cap space it can get in the next few years.
Manning, for his part, recently said that he would be fine with the idea of an incentive-laden contract with little money upfront for the right team, but are the Colts the right team at this point in his career? Once the two men meet next week, we'll probably have a much better idea -- and we're quite sure that Irsay will keep us posted.

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